Looking to the Economic Future

FEBRUARY 28, 2007 -- POSTED AT 9:15 P.M. CST

JONESBORO, AR -- The Arkansas Economic Development Commission chose Marion for their quarterly conference this week, a city that seemed to be headed in the right direction for economic growth, until the news came just 2 days ago that the Toyota plant was not going to be built in Marion.

"A couple years ago we hit a homerun with HINO and now we're standing in here today. We would've loved to have Toyota, but this is still a hot spot in the state being so close to Memphis, the interstates coming through here, the great river, so this is not where we're going to stop," says Lane Jean, an AED Commissioner.

Air quality and pollution coming from Memphis over to Crittenden County may have contributed to Toyota's decision to choose Mississippi over Marion. Toyota told Arkansas Tuesday that the overall air quality was in fact the reason they chose to bypass Marion, over Tupelo, Mississippi.

"I was there when Governor Beebe was told it is the air quality and the ozone problem where we lost out," says Maria Haley, the new Executive Director of AEDC.

The commission says they've known that the air quality was a concern of Toyota's, but what did they do to address those environmental concerns?

"They had a lot of in depth research on the environmental impact on Crittenden County. We tried to do everything we could to clear the slate and what came out of it, I do not know," says AED Commission Lane Jean.

Last February , the EPA re-classified Crittenden County's air quality status so that new industries would not have to meet more stringent pollution standards, something the commission thought eliminated Toyota's concerns.

"We had a clearance on that in February and I don't know that it's changed at all except for the better. We've been working hard to keep things down," says Steve Edwards, another AED Commissioner.

Despite Toyota's reasoning, they've made their decision and the commission says now all they can do is move toward more economic development.

"I'm reminded of a Chinese Proverb that says for every adversity, you should find opportunities and that's what we're going to do is look for other opportunities and we will find it," says Haley, the AEDC Director.

The AEDC Director told K8 News that the commission plans to further discuss this announcement together during their meeting this month, along with their plans to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with the EPA.